Massage

Massage for migraine: an introduction

Massage is a term that encompasses a variety of methods using touch to press, rub or manipulate the skin, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Massage is used for several health conditions and provides many health benefits, including reducing stress, pain, and muscle tension. In addition to the health benefits, many people find massage produces feelings of caring, comfort, and connection. There is some evidence that massage for migraine sufferers may help reduce the number of attacks.

Research on massage therapy for migraine

There is limited research on massage and migraine. However, a few small studies provide promising information.

One small 2006 study of 47 migraine sufferers randomly assigned participants to receive massage therapy or to a control group. All trial participants completed daily assessments of their sleep activity and migraine attacks. Those who had massages had fewer migraines and slept better during the weeks they had massages and in the three weeks following massages. On average, the massage group had a 34% reduction in migraines during the weeks they received massage therapy and a 30% reduction in the follow-up period, compared to reductions of 7% and 2% in the control group.1,2

In a study that retrospectively looked at the triggers and relieving factors among people with migraine versus people with tension headaches, massage was used by significantly more people with migraine as a technique to relieve symptoms.3

Another small randomized study evaluated 26 people with migraine. Half of the participants received massage therapy, focusing on the neck. Those who received massage therapy had significantly less migraine pain compared to the control group. From the first massage to the last, the massage group reported a 71% reduction in pain intensity.2,4

Self-massage for migraine

There are several acupressure points that are associated with reducing migraine pain and other symptoms, like nausea. These specific points on the body can be pressed or rubbed through self-massage, and many people find that self-massage and acupressure can provide relief from the agony of migraine.

Different types of massage

There are many different types massage available, including:

  • Swedish massage
  • Sports massage
  • Deep tissue massage
  • Reflexology
  • Lymphatic massage
  • Shiatsu
  • Rolfing
  • Craniosacral therapy

Possible side effects of massage

Massage is generally considered safe when conducted by a registered massage therapist with a current license. The majority of negative side effects from massage are rare and are usually associated with massage conducted by laymen.5

Who should not participate in massage for migraines

People with certain diseases and conditions should avoid massage, including:

  • Active cold or flu
  • Acute injury
  • Bleeding disorders
  • Contagious skin problems
  • Recent surgery
  • Fractures

Pregnant women should get their doctor’s permission before receiving massages and should only use a massage therapist who is specifically trained in pregnancy massage.

You should tell your massage therapist about all medications you take, including those that are applied directly to the skin.

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As always, the best source for advice on treating migraine is your own migraine specialist. These descriptions of natural remedies are provided only for informational purposes. You should begin no medication or supplement without first checking with your physician.

Written by: Emily Downward | Last review date: May 2018
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